Everything you have heard about Las Vegas is true.
Believe it or not, that is where I have been, from September 10 to 13. If you know me and this city’s wicked reputation, you would not have expected me to go there. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a pleasure trip; I never wanted to go there before, and made it a point to stay home when Leive went to see her family. And I definitely didn’t want to help the state of Nevada while they have a real scoundrel representing them in the Senate; fortunately it doesn’t look like Harry Reid is very popular in Nevada these days, after those outbursts about how tourists to the Capitol stink, and how he hopes the leading Las Vegas newspaper goes out of business. However, the latest convention for Pre-Paid Legal Services was held in Las Vegas, and from the e-mails I received last August, I learned just enough to convince me that I ought to be there. By the way, the title of this page isn’t misspelled. This is the last year that Pre-Paid Legal plans to hold a convention in Las Vegas; next year they want to do it in Dallas.
The early morning flight from Lexington to Houston (we had a stopover at George Bush International Airport) couldn’t have gone better. I ran into problems, though, for the second leg of the journey, from Houston to Las Vegas. Apparently they overbooked the flight, and put a lady older than me in my seat. Although the flight crew admitted I was the rightful occupant of that seat, they made me wait for twenty minutes at the door of the plane, until they found another one for me; maybe that other lady didn’t feel well enough to move. The seat they put me in was so small that I could barely get the seatbelt on; I joked that the airline must put Vietnamese passengers in it most of the time! On a positive note, I did get to see some spectacular scenery when we got over the desert, including El Paso, some rivers running into the Grand Canyon, Lake Mead, and Hoover Dam.
Now back to the opening line on this page. For a start, everyone was right when they talked about Nevada’s preoccupation with gambling. The first thing I saw, right when I stepped in the airport terminal, were the slot machines, row after row of them! But that only turned out to be a fraction of what they have downtown in the casinos. The convention, for example, was held in the MGM Grand Hotel, and half of the MGM’s ground floor is taken up by their casino.
From the looks of things, every industry in Las Vegas is geared toward people-pleasing; this is the “City of Entertainment,” all right. I have not seen any other place where the hedonistic lifestyle is so encouraged, where the most important principle is the pleasure principle. Just about every billboard advertises a concert, play, or some other show that tourists might enjoy. Just check out the list of upcoming shows on this webpage; chances are you’ve heard of most of the performers. They also have a motto that goes, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, as this banner in the airport reminds visitors.
You may have also heard that prostitution is legal there. Well, I didn’t see any hookers, but then I wasn’t looking for them, and it was probably too hot for them to walk the streets anyway. However, I did see ads for them. The most blatant were the little cards advertising what they call “escorts”; on the main road, which they call the Strip, I saw quite a few folks handing out those cards; of course I refused all such offers. On Sunday I read a column in a local newspaper which said those card distributors don’t discriminate; they’ll even give the cards to children and senior citizens! The only people they avoid on the Strip are women with large bust measurements. No doubt they see that as the competition.
Finally, life in Las Vegas seems so unreal at times. I know outsiders feel the same way about Orlando, where I used to live, but get away from Kissimmee and the southwest quarter of Orange County (where the theme parks are located), and you’ll see normal people; I call that the “real Orlando.” However, I have not yet seen a part of Las Vegas like that; maybe the outlying suburbs. The community is in a desert, surrounded by mountains in nearly every direction, as the pictures below, taken from the airport, will show you. You wouldn’t expect more than a handful of people to live in a place so hot and dry, but here they are. Even the water supply is artificial, if you count how Lake Mead was formed. This city is a testimony to what you can build if you have enough money. Just check out how they light up the place at night; for instance, the Luxor Hotel has a searchlight beam shooting straight up into the sky, from the top of that glass pyramid. To me, all that energy consumption is just as much a way to flaunt wealth as it is to show off gold and diamonds.
I shared the same hotel with some other Pre-Paid Legal Associates, including Terry and Heather Cherry, and Alfonso and Lori Fergerson. All of them except Lori were at the Oklahoma City convention last March. Though we flew in on separate planes, we were there early enough to attend a pre-convention session on selling Pre-Paid Legal accounts to small businesses. One of the speakers was Fran Tarkenton, who is considered by some to be the greatest football quarterback that ever lived. He was also there to promote his new book, an autobiography called “Every Day Is Game Day.” I got a picture of him signing the books after the meeting:
The convention itself began on Friday morning. The main sessions were held in the MGM Grand Arena, which seats 15,500 and has seen many great concerts over the years. The walls outside the arena are covered with pictures of who has performed there; one speaker also reminded us that back in the 1990s, Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear on this spot! I took quite a few pictures inside the arena, but as with the convention center in Oklahoma City, it was too big for the flash to work. Here is the arena entrance:
And here is one of the most popular speakers, Maryland’s Darnell Self.
Between the Friday sessions, I explored the MGM ground floor, and ate at one of their restaurants. Alas, all the restaurants in Las Vegas are overpriced, compared with those in Kentucky and Florida! I couldn’t believe it when I was charged $3.49 for a medium-sized lemonade. Anyway, here are some pictures I took on the walk. First, the wedding chapel; Leive told me the whole city is full of them. I managed to catch a wedding there on Saturday.
The hotel lobby is decorated with flowers, both real and fake, and a golden lion.
The hotel pool. I believe that is the attraction they call “Wet Republic.”
In the landscaping, most of the plants I saw were types I remember from Florida: palms, prickly pear cactus, lantanas, agaves, etc. Obviously temperature matters more to them than rainfall. Egad, they even have cycads!
Take out the casino, arena and theaters, and the MGM looks like a big shopping mall.
The MGM has a lion habitat, a big glass cage with lions living in it. The fun part is the tunnel, which the lions like to sleep on top of; did you ever want to get this close to the king of beasts? It was also cute to see one of the zookeepers playing with a lion cub.
These pictures are for Leive, showing the big aquarium they have in the Rainforest Cafe.
And don’t forget the casino. Rows of slot machines and electronic poker, everywhere you can see! Robert Bendoy (Leive’s brother and Rezia’s father) once told us there is a demon lurking on each gambling machine, waiting to get those who play it. I can’t see them, but I can believe they are there, so I didn’t touch any of the machines. Slots can either be played on oversized video games, or with the old-fashioned one-armed bandits.
Some of the roulette wheels had been turned into video games, too.
They had some card tables with human attendants for blackjack, poker, crap-shooting, etc. I didn’t much much activity there until the evening.
Along the walls were some theaters. David Copperfield was playing in one; Cirque du Soleil had a show in another. Apparently this isn’t the same show that Cirque du Soleil has in Orlando; this one seems to feature Chinese acrobats.
But I found it telling that the least busy area in the casino was where the cashiers paid out the winnings. When I saw the lack of people over there, I knew without seeing the numbers that the odds are stacked against the players.
For dinner on Friday, our group went out on the Strip and walked several blocks to the Harley Davidson Cafe, a restaurant with a motorcycle theme. Boy, was it hot out there, at 104 degrees! I must have been mad to wear a suit on Friday and Saturday. Here are some pictures of the sights to be seen on the way.
Bet you didn’t expect to see Michael Jackson and Elvis together (in this life, anyway)!
How about an eagle made from motorcycle parts?
Besides eating and socializing, we had a round of recognition for the group members who had gotten promoted recently. From left to right, here are the group leaders: James and Kennetha Kelly from Louisville, Angela and Bobby Diggs from Petersburg, VA. Last month the Kellys became silver executive directors, and the Diggses became platinum executive directors. Way to go, team!
And here is the rest of the Kentucky delegation (besides the Kellys and myself). From left to right: Jeff Johnson, the executive director from Frankfort, Terry and Heather Cherry, Alfonso and Lori Fergerson.
And here a new executive director, Derek Morton, got up to make a lively speech. After the meal we also gave a plaque to Bobby Diggs for all he accomplished.
On the way back to the MGM, I discovered a Filipino restaurant. Leive says Kapit Bahay means “Neighborhood,” and Rezia told me she’s been there already. I went and ate there the next day. It was good, but they had all the food unidentified under a steam table, so good luck if you don’t know what it is. The only dish I could recognize was the pancit noodles, so I had a plate of that with some rice and Sarsi (the Filipino equivalent of root beer). It came up to $7.03, making it one of the cheapest meals I had in Las Vegas.
Boy, they had some naughty souvenirs on the Strip! Here’s the “Insulting Parrot,” a toy parrot that swears at you when you push a button; imagine if I brought that home to teach Brin-Brin some new words! Behind the parrots (not easily seen here), were some figurines of a man that blows bubbles out of his butt!
Friday night was the time for awards and recognition to the top achievers, back at the arena. Here are the Kellys parading across the stage with a banner, when their turn came.
After the evening session, we took the city’s monorail, which dropped us off half a mile from our hotel, and we walked the rest of the way. I thought the desert was supposed to get cold at night, but even around 11 PM, it still had to be at least 90 degrees. Maybe the concrete holds heat better than sand does. Thus, when we passed a 7-11 store, I went in and got my first slurpee in three years (7-11s are very common in Florida, but we don’t have any in Kentucky). It didn’t give me the infamous “brain freeze,” though; maybe the heat is responsible for that, too.
The Hard Rock Cafe on Saturday morning.
Here we approach the largest hotels. The Luxor pyramid is unmistakable.
While the MGM from a distance is a big green glass block.
The big announcement, the one that had brought me to the convention in the first place, came on Saturday the 12th, at 12:30 PM local time. Pre-Paid Legal is going to make its name a household word by partnering with a brand new website, the Blastoff Network. Once word gets out about what you can do with this site, and how cool it looks, we expect this will be hotter than Twitter, Facebook, and all the other social networking sites in cyberspace. Here Blastoff’s Bill Rodgers explains the moneymaking potential of the partnership for us.
You should have seen how excited the crowd was as we realized what this could do for our business and our incomes; I can’t do justice by describing it here. Even those who didn’t know enough about computers to understand the program knew that we had grabbed onto something big! Afterwards a lot of the folks were seen outside the arena on cell phones, trying to tell friends and fellow associates about it. I saw Jeff Johnson doing it, for instance, and I’m afraid he didn’t do much better than I did, when I tried explaining it to Leive. As Terry put it after we got home, Harland Stonecipher, our company founder and CEO, is like the rich uncle from Texas who drives into town on a cadillac and gives away fine presents to the rest of his family.
(Update, 9/27/2009: Here are the details on the announcement.)
I didn’t see any other members of the Kentucky group after Saturday afternoon. Terry and Heather went to catch their plane as soon as the convention was over, and Alfonso and Lori had to return their rental car early. That meant I had to rely on the monorail and hotel bus for my transportation after that. Late on Saturday afternoon the sky filled up with rain clouds, and I even saw some streaks of rain coming from them, but I don’t think any reached the ground; it was hot enough to evaporate the rain on the way down. Still, it was only(!) 96 degrees, when I went back on the Strip, to visit the Filipino restaurant I told you about earlier. Remember what I said about hot concrete? This time it was so hot that I burned my right foot, even though I wore shoes all the time. I’ll tell you one thing, I felt a little silly when I got back to the hotel room, sitting on the bed with my foot in the ice bucket. Fortunately it was only a first degree burn, and it stopped bothering me as soon as I returned to Kentucky.
The final session of the convention, from 7 to 9:30 PM Saturday evening, had more awards and recognition, and finally Mr. Stonecipher came out to give us some encouraging words. He began by saying he’s proud to have all of us in his downline, and told us that August was the best month in Pre-Paid Legal’s history. He’s probably the only CEO who doesn’t complain when he has to pay more money to the folks who work for him! To finish, he reminded us of the story of the spies in Canaan, in Numbers 13 and 14, and said that our success depends on how we view ourselves. In the Old Testament, after they saw the giants, Joshua and Caleb saw themselves as giant-killers, while the other spies saw themselves as grasshoppers. Which image do you have of yourself?
Sunday was anticlimactic, by comparison. I didn’t have to be anywhere in a hurry, inasmuch as the rest of my group left earlier, and my plane wasn’t due to leave until 8 PM. I spent much of the morning trying unsuccessfully to use the hotel computer, which had a bad Internet connection; in the end I felt like I had asked for a military secret, when all I wanted to know was what the weather was like in Denver. By 3 PM I was bored and asked to be taken to the airport. More waiting there, followed by an uneventful flight from Las Vegas to Denver.
Denver is probably all right, but being the middle of the night, I didn’t see anything besides the airport, and I didn’t like the way the airport was laid out. I had to take a train to the main terminal, find the Delta desk (It wasn’t clearly marked on the maps), go through security again, take a train to another terminal, and finally go to my gate; that whole process took an hour. This was definitely a redeye flight, leaving Denver at 1:15 AM and arriving in Atlanta at dawn. I never could sleep well in a sitting position, either in the airport or on the plane, but I found this part of the return trip the most interesting, because the back of each seat on the plane had a touchscreen, which played a fine selection of movies and music. The headphones I brought for my MP3 player worked here, so I didn’t need to buy a set. They even had a world music station, called “Global Grooves.” Oh, joy!
More waiting around in Atlanta, though since I had been there before and was almost home, it was the most familiar airport on the way. By this time, having come from a desert state and having been up for most of the night, I felt like a wreck, as you might expect. For the last leg, we took one of the little express jets we are used to in Lexington; it left Atlanta at 8:20 AM and reached Bluegrass Airport at 9:30 AM. After that, there was the matter of reclaiming my luggage, paying to get my car out of the parking lot, driving home, taking a much-desired shower, and a three-hour nap before getting on with Monday’s business.
Finally, look at what was parked near my plane, when I returned to Lexington. The Sheik of Dubai is back! Or at least his plane is. See my message from May 18, 2008, when I told about the Sheik’s agent coming here in 2006 to buy racing horses. Nobody else lands 747s at our little airport. I didn’t have a digital camera last time, so I’m glad I have one now. Until I hear otherwise, I’ll assume the Sheik is shopping for horses again, and his plane arrived not too long before mine.